Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sermon: Ascension (transferred) - 2019

29 May 2019

Text: Mark 16:14-20 (2 Kings 2:5-15, Acts 1:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

It is not our job to fix the world.  Don’t get me wrong – we have work to do.  There are things that God calls each one of us to do in the kingdom, to serve the church, to serve the world, and to serve Him.  And if we look at how messed up the world is, we might get discouraged.  But if we keep our eyes on the small tasks that the Lord assigns to us, day in and day out, we can find joy – joy in being a part of something that transcends our own lifetime.  

As great as the prophet Elijah was, it was not his job to fix the world.  It was Elijah’s job to preach the Word of God, calling sinners to repentance, and teaching them of the mercy of God when they repented.  Elijah preached Christ without even fully realizing it.  Elijah suffered and at times felt like a failure.  But it was not Elijah’s job to fix the world, but rather to proclaim and serve the One whose job it is to fix the world.

For there came a time when Elijah was taken from the earth, not in death, but rather in some kind of wormhole in the space-time continuum: “behold chariots of fire and horses of fire separated” Elijah from his student Elisha.  “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”  Prophecies in the New Testament suggest that Elijah’s work will be completed on earth when our Lord returns.  And Elisha was left literally bearing Elijah’s mantle: “My father, my father!” he cried.   “The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”  And he saw him no more.”

Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah, and he too preached the Word of God.  But it was not Elisha’s job to fix the world either.

This ascension of Elijah into the heavens prefigures our Lord’s ascension.  Our Lord has returned to the Father with the intention of coming again at the end of time.  It’s not our job to fix the world, but it is His job to do so.  And so He does, and He will.

Our Lord prepared those who were to wear His mantle as apostles (whom He had chosen) by explaining what was to come following His ascension.  For like Elisha, they were to see their master taken into heaven.  The apostles wanted to know what was going to happen next, as St. Luke reports: “‘Lord, will You restore the kingdom to Israel?  He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.  And you will be My witnesses.” 

Our Lord tells them that they will be witnesses of the resurrection, giving testimony beginning with their own city, their own region and beyond, “and to the end of the earth.”

St. Mark also records the Lord giving the apostles their marching orders: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

And even as the prophets Elijah and Elisha would carry out their ministry accompanied by miraculous signs, so too would the apostles: “In My name,” says our Lord, “they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

It was not the job of the apostles to fix the world.  Rather it was their job to proclaim the gospel, to be witnesses of Christ, to teach and preach and baptize and absolve – to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to evangelize the world come what may – even demons, language barriers, deadly animals, even the poison of enemies, and sickness.  Their vocation is to be witnesses of the One who has come into the world to fix it: to die for the sins of each one of its inhabitants; to destroy sin, death, and the devil; and to recreate the universe anew.

The apostles bear the mantle of their Lord, whom they preach.  And they are not carrying out their ministry alone.  For even though they saw the Lord ascend from them, not unlike Elisha who cried out “My father, my father!” our Lord has taught them to pray to God the Father, to rely on His providence, to proclaim the gospel, and to do so filled with the Holy Spirit through whom our Lord has “given commands” to them.  For Jesus continues to work through the apostles, as St. Mark says, “And they went out and preached everywhere while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”

Dear friends, the apostolic ministry continues through us.  We preachers of the Word, and hearers of the Word, in our own day and age bear the mantle of the apostles.  We continue their work in proclaiming “the gospel to the whole creation.”  We continue this ministry in spite of demons and cultural barriers, natural and man-made hardships, through sickness and mortality.  Age upon age, the church’s ministry goes on, bolstered by the Holy Spirit, centered on the Word and Sacraments of the Son, and to the glory of the Father.  

It is not our job to fix the world, but we certainly have work to do.  There are things that God calls each one of us to do in the kingdom, to serve the church, to serve the world, and to serve Him.  We each have a vocation, a calling, whether we are preachers of the Word or hearers of the Word.  We have the vocation to receive the sacraments, and to be the Lord’s witnesses, whether in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the earth.  

With the passing of each day, each week, each year, and each generation, the time of the Lord’s return draws closer.  And so we, like the “Men of Galilee” have work to do.  There is no time for us to stand gawking into the sky.  For “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

It is not our job to fix the world.  But we have the joy to confess and proclaim the One who has come to fix the world – even Jesus Christ our Lord – now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, May 27, 2019

From a Brother in Arms Under the Cross

One of the great and wondrous things about being in the Office of the Holy Ministry is the collegiality of the fathers and brothers.  I am blessed with brothers in arms under the cross who come from every walk of life, scattered around the globe, of every tribe and tongue, engaged in the common warfare against sin, death, and the devil as servants of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Fr. Wesley Tetsuji Kan is one such brother in the office. 

He is, as the kids say, if you'll pardon the expression, a "badass."  He is now a retired second career pastor, a former district attorney from Hawaii, and a man of Japanese heritage who knows and revels in his culture's warrior history.

I am glad to count him a friend and not a foe.

He has heroically driven more than six hours each way from his home in Florida to fill in for me at Salem when I needed help.

My dear brother wrote to me today, and said:
Earlier, I told you I refuse to provide you with a hanko (Chinese ideogram seal) for fear that you would use it in a stole orphrey or chasuble vesica.  Since then, it dawned on me that as cultured academic, you should have a hanko even though you don’t have a name that can be honestly rendered in kanji (ideogram).  However, your surname, “Beane,” means “life,” “enochi” in Japanese.  Larry is Laurentius in the original Latin, “man from Laurentum,” a Roman town that is associated with the laurel wreath, and in Japanese, that is “Gekkeikan,” that is also the name of the internationally popular saké.  I could render your name in Japanese but it would be unbalanced in a traditional hanko and it sounds really weird. 
The kanji is for “nanban,” literally “southern barbarian.”  Its first usage was in China when the tiny Han Chinese kingdom fought off the ancestors of Cantonese Chinese of what is now Guandong to Yunnan Provinces.  In Japan, it was used to refer to the Portuguese explorers of the late sixteenth century.  This was expanded to include the Dutch and English.  The term is now used mostly by non-Asian Europeans and Americans to sarcastically refer to themselves in the same way I call myself a “Jap” (as opposed to JAP–Jewish American Princess). 
The capsule cartouche is called an “inkan.”  The vermilion color is traditional.  I have given you the kanji in both the simpler modern and more complex traditional.  Abuse them to the glory of Christ (if possible).
And here are the two finished products.  I am honored, Father Wesley.  This is right up there with being made an honorary Marine by a Marine, and an honorary Seal by a Seal.  I suppose I can add honorary Japanese aristocrat to my list of bucket-list items completed.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6) - 2019

26 May 2019

Text: John 16:23-33

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord Jesus Christ is our Teacher.  And this is typically what the disciples call Him: “Rabbi, Teacher.”  And this is no mere title of respect.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior, who has come to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  He is the God who comes in the flesh to redeem us.  He is the perfect Human who comes to die as the perfect sacrificial Lamb for us men and for our salvation.  But He is also Jesus, the Teacher, the One who comes to reveal the truth to us.

Last week, we heard our Lord teaching us about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth.  And Jesus is Himself the Truth!  He is the Word by whom all things were made: the design, the Logos, the logic that governs the universe, the order that overcomes chaos, the light that overcomes darkness, the life that overcomes death.  He is the love that drives out all fear, and overcomes evil.

As a teacher, our Lord knows that there are times when it is best to let one’s students figure things out.  Our Lord understands the Socratic Method, as He often guides His hearers into an encounter with the truth by leading them, for example, when He speaks in figures of speech, such as parables – with or without further explanation.  We sometimes learn by struggle.

But there are also times when a good teacher foregoes the Socratic Method and, as the saying goes, “talks turkey,” by telling it like it is.  There are some things that Jesus must tell us outright that we cannot discern by reason, things that we cannot be guided into by clever instruction.  There are times when our Lord is brutally blunt and to the point as He reveals things that we must know.

Our Gospel today is one of those times.  “I have said these things to you in figures of speech,” says our Lord and Teacher.  “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

Jesus has come to reveal to mankind, to us, to His creatures, the truth about God the Father.  And to do so requires plain speech, not a guided Socratic walk along a primrose path, but rather direct and clear, unmistakable plain talk.

“For the Father Himself loves you,” He says.

The Father loves you, dear friends.  This is blunt and to the point.  It cannot be misconstrued.  Now Jesus had previously explained this figuratively by means of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but now He comes right out and says it.  In case the parable wasn’t clear, in case you think that the parable doesn’t apply to you, in case you have interpreted it all wrong, here it is: “The Father loves you.”  And because of this love that the Father has for you, He sent His Son, who plainly says: “I came from God.  I came from the Father and have come into the world.”  This is all plain speech.  There is nothing figurative or symbolic here.  Jesus is not a prophet, not a do-gooder, not a literary figure, not a super-hero.  He is the Son of God sent by the Father out of love, to teach us about the Kingdom and to redeem us by His blood shed upon the cross.  And contrary to modern theologians who think they’re so sophisticated by trying to separate the “Historical Jesus” from the “Cosmic Christ,” and all of that other blather, Jesus puts it out there without figurative speech, plain as day.  He came from the Father who loves us; He goes to the cross to save us; and He is leaving the world to go to the Father.  And indeed, “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” 

“His disciples said, ‘Ah, now You are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!  Now we know that you know all things and You do not need anyone to question You; this is why we believe that you came from God.”

Jesus came from God the Father, because the Father loves us.  Jesus knows all things, because He is God; He is the Son, the Word Made Flesh.  He is above questioning and interrogation.  And when He says: “Let there be light,” there is light.  And when He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” our sins are forgiven.  And when He says, “This is My body,” it is His body.  For He is not speaking in figures of speech, but plainly.  

Our Lord is talking turkey with us because He knows that we will need to know this truth for what is yet to come.  The disciples will have to endure the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection.  And in their ministry, they will suffer, and many of them will die for the sake of the Gospel that they will preach plainly: the Good News that the Father loves us, and that Jesus has come from the Father for the forgiveness of sins, unto eternal life.  

And we too, dear friends, must bear our own crosses in this fallen world.  For these words of Jesus apply to us as well: “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home.”  For our Lord says to us as well: “In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus is speaking plainly to us, dear brothers and sisters, telling it like it is without figures of speech.  The life of the Christian is the life of the cross.  But take heart, He says.  Literally, this word means “Be courageous, be brave.”  How can we be brave, dear friends, how can we have this courage?  Because Jesus has already overcome the world.  The Greek word that our Lord uses is the word for the Greek god of victory, which our silly world thinks of as merely a brand of tennis shoe: “Nike.”  We can be courageous because Jesus has conquered the world.  He is victorious.  He has vanquished evil.  And why?  Because the Father loves us!  It is just that plain, dear friends!

Our Teacher is revealing all of this to us plainly, and without figures of speech: the Father’s love, the Son’s victory, and our courage.  And He says, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.”

The Christian faith is all about peace, that is, the harmonious working together of the entire created order.  That peace was shattered by our sin, but it has been restored by Christ, who came from the Father, because the Father loves us.  He rescues us, even in the midst of the tribulation of this fallen and hostile world.  And so, take courage, dear friends, because in Jesus you have peace.  For He has indeed overcome the world.

And because He is victorious, you are victorious.  And you have peace: the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of Christ.  He says this plainly, and we receive it plainly with our hearty: “Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) - 2019

19 May 2019

Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“Nevertheless,” says Jesus, “I tell you the truth.”

For the second week in a row, our Gospel involves Jesus preparing His disciples for a change in how things are going to work.  For He is going to be crucified, rise from the dead, and then forty days after His resurrection, He will return to the Father.  The disciples are being kicked out of the nest and will have to fly on their own.  They are about to graduate and will no longer be students.  They will make the transition from disciples to apostles, from hearers to preachers, from seminarians to pastors.

No man in his right mind would not be terrified by this.  And Jesus recognizes this.  And so He assures them that He is not disappearing from them.  And He has not disappeared from us either, dear friends!

For Jesus is the Word made flesh, and He is present wherever and whenever His Word is proclaimed, and His flesh and blood are present.  In other words, Jesus is here with us, in space and time, whenever two or three gather for the Divine Service, when His Word is read and preached and taught and heard, and when His Holy Supper is distributed “for the forgiveness of sins.”  

Our Lord also sends us a “Helper” to guide us through the perils of life in this fallen world, to point us to that which is right and true, to lead us out of temptation, to draw us to the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments, and to direct us to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself!  And this Helper is the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon the Church at Pentecost – even as we will soon call this wondrous blessing to mind yet again, when the Word of God exploded into every corner of the world, defying even the barriers of tribe and tongue.

And even though the idea of graduation, of their beloved Teacher ascending into heaven, of the changes that this will bring to them – which for nearly all of them would include martyrdom of some sort – causes sorrow to fill their hearts, “Nevertheless,” says our Lord, comforting them with His Word, with His promise, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.”  For in this change, the Holy Spirit would accomplish things through the work of the apostles that they could not then imagine.

And, dear friends, this is what “faith” is.  Faith is believing without absolute proof.  Now, people mock faith, people think that faith is primitive and contrary to science.  But these same people walk into a room and turn on the light switch.  Why do they do this?  Because they fully expect the light to go on.  They have faith that this will happen.  They cannot absolutely know that this will happen – and sometimes it doesn’t.  But nevertheless, they still live by faith in something.

Or someone!  Every time someone cashes a paycheck, he is putting faith in the promise of another person: faith that his employer will indeed convert the piece of paper, bearing a promise and a signature, into money.

We all indeed live by faith.  It would be impossible to function without faith – for we live in the present that is always moving into the future.  And we have faith in what our eyes and ears tell us.  Even walking a single step is an act of faith.

And so Jesus calls His disciples – including us – to trust Him.  He is the Creator of the world.  There’s a plan.  He’s got it all under control – even when it looks like it isn’t.  And to keep us in the faith, the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit of God who hovered over the waters in the beginning, and who hovers over the baptismal waters that were applied to us – the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  “This is most certainly true,” for He is, as our Lord calls Him, “the Spirit of truth,” and our Lord Himself says, “I tell you the truth.”

This is our culture’s current crisis, dear friends.  We live in an age in which people believe that there is no truth, but rather there are many truths.  If two plus two equals four for you, then that’s fine for you.  But you better not jam your mathematics down other people’s throats.  For who are you to judge if another person’s truth is that two plus two equals five.  

Of course, with math like that, you might not want to drive over any bridges.

We can have faith, dear friends, precisely because we believe that there is a truth, an objective reality that transcends our desires, our feelings, and even our existence.  Isn’t it interesting that when our Lord was put on trial before Pontius Pilate, the tormented governor asked Him, “What is truth?”  

And so we believe Jesus is telling us the truth, and we believe that the Holy Spirit guides us into truth, and we believe that our struggles in this world are truly to our advantage – even if we are tempted to think otherwise.  For no matter how grim things are, how divided our culture and our country have become, no matter how shockingly and rapidly that we have seen things fall into chaos – our Lord Jesus Christ has it all under control.  The Holy Spirit is guiding us to where we need to be, where it is to our “advantage.”  The Greek word that John uses here – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – translated as “advantage” –
actually means: “lots of things working together for good.”  

And once again, dear friends, think about all the little things in your life, this decision, that happenstance, this chance meeting of a person, that choice instead of the other choice – that all conspired to bring you to eternal life in Christ.  How arrogant we are if we think that we did this!  How silly it would be to claim that we made some kind of decision for Christ.  All the while, the Holy Spirit has guided you into all truth, and led you to Jesus Christ, who forgives your sins, who makes you into a new person, who promises you victory over death and the grave, who offers you His body and blood week in and week out, who hunts you down like a Shepherd, and keeps you in the one true flock by means of His Word and Spirit!

And Jesus knows that we can’t handle everything all at once.  And so He asks us to trust Him, one step at a time, as all of those little things are worked to your good, to your advantage.  Jesus asks you to trust Him, and He sends us the Holy Spirit as a mentor, a guide, and a true Helper.  For “when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”

And that, dear friends, is what the Christian life is all about: a relentless search for the truth – not your truth or my truth or some silly fantasy that two plus two equals five.  Rather, we want to know what is objectively and eternally true: how we got here, why the world is the way that it is – including us – and where are we going.  To desire anything less than the truth is to deny to ourselves what it means to be truly human.  

And so we are led by the Spirit, led to Jesus, led to the Holy Trinity in whom we have communion, to the God who created us, loves us, redeems us, and brings us to Himself – where we will live eternally as we were meant to live.  This is where we are headed in this little ship we call the Church.  This is where we are all being led in this little flock following our Good Shepherd.  This is what awaits us when all the little pieces come together – all to our advantage: “All that the Father has is Mine,” says our Lord Jesus, “therefore, I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  To you, dear friends.

And this is the truth that has been revealed by Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Scriptures, and received by your believing hearts.  Though we cannot bear to hear all of the truth now, this is the truth that our Lord declared  to the disciples, and declares again to us.  

And though in this fallen world, sorrow fills our hearts, “Nevertheless,” says Jesus, “I tell you the truth.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Tilley Trilogy

I'm often asked about where to find books that tell the story of the War Between the States from the Southern perspective.

As we all know, the winners write the history books, and there are always two sides (at least) to every story.  And given that the United States was victorious in the war, and given the increasing centralization of power in Washington, D.C. that resulted from the Union victory, and given that there is now a Federal Department of Education that oversees and standardizes the way public education is conductred, and given that History is no longer even a school subject in primary school (being replaced by Social Studies), and given that we live in a time of restrictive and conformist "political correctness" that chokes out diversity and examining history according to its human complexities - is it any wonder that the historiography taught in our schools is skewed, leaving generations of Americans in the dark about their own history?

At this juncture in our American experience, our young people are becoming increasingly dumbed-down and unable to dispassionately articulate the whys and wherefores of history from a diversity of perspectives.  At this point, we're lucky if our students know that the American Revolution did not happen after World War II.

John Shipley Tilley's three books are a great source of popular history from the Southern perspective.  Tilley was born in Conyers, Georgia in 1880, the grandson of a Confederate veteran.  He earned his  M.A. at Harvard, and had a successful career as an attorney in Alabama. Tilley died in Montgomery, Alabama in 1968.

Facts the Historians Leave Out

Facts the Historians Leave Out is the shortest work in this series.  It is a "small catechism" if you will, a series of questions and answers - and a few brief vignettes - fitting for children and adults alike: the very basics of the historical topic at hand.  It was first published in 1951, and has been through more than 20 printings, with the most recent impression being in 2015.  It is a mere 83 pages and addresses 28 various topics, including the birth of the United States, slavery, states' rights, secession, the beginning of the war, its conduct, and reconstruction.

Facts can be read in a few minutes.  It is a work that is written so as young children can understand the concepts - especially if they are familiar with U.S. history as it has traditionally been taught in our schools.

The book is available on Amazon both as a paperback ($5.49) and as a Kindle book ($3.49).  It is highly rated, racking up a 4.5 star average (out of 5) as averaged across 165 customer reviews - with 84% of ratings being either 5-star (72%) or 4-star (12%).

This book, in the genre of a small catechism, is not only a helpful way to begin to look at the history of the South (and its brief period of independence) from a homegrown perspective for children or beginning history students, it is also (like the Small Catechism) a helpful text to review from time to time for seasoned students of American history.

The Coming of the Glory

The Coming of the Glory is the second of Tilley's books that I would like to briefly discuss.  Unfortunately, it is out of print, but available in the form of used paperback copies for (as of this writing) about $20.

Coming is a comprehensive and scholarly analysis of the war's causes and aftermath: covering three main sections: slavery, secession, and reconstruction.  It is 290 pages and includes a footnoted bibliography and index.  Tilley published this book in 1949.

The author's focus on these three topics was prescient, as these are the most controversial, and subsequently the most biased in their modern treatment (or ill-treatment if not avoidance).  The effect of reconstruction upon the South and the entire United States - socially, economically, and politically - cannot be over-emphasized, and yet, very few people have even read more than a couple of pages about it in their history classes.  And even then, the current popular historiographical treatment is that of the self-described Marxist Eric Foner.

Tilley's treatment provides the balance missing from today's neo-Marxist and triumphalist accounts of slavery, secession, and reconstruction.

Lincoln Takes Command

The most detailed and focused work of the Tilley Trilogy is his 1941 magnum opus Lincoln Takes Command.  Unfortunately, Lincoln is out of print, and currently sells for about $200 for a used hardcover on Amazon.  I would recommend getting a copy through interlibrary loan, or keeping your eyes peeled on eBay.

Lincoln is a detailed analysis of something that is almost never taught in high school or university courses: the machinations that led to war between the time of secession and the hostilities at Fort Sumter.  Part I of the book (94 pages) deals with Fort Pickens, near Pensacola, Florida - the events of which predated Ft. Sumter, and which almost no modern American knows anything about.

Part II deals with Fort Sumter itself (171 pages).  Part III concludes the book with a brief overview of the confederate government's aims for peace.  There are also two appendices and an index.

What is most extraordinary about Lincoln is that it slows down the clock that is usually sped up, zooming in on overlooked intrigues that happened in that critical window of time that could have opened to peace, but was unfortunately slammed shut, leading to the most disastrous and bloody war in American history. 

If you read this book, you will never look at the War Between the States the same way again.

The importance of this work is attested to by the forward by the renowned northern "Civil War" historian Avery Craven of the University of Chicago in 1940, who praises the author:
Mr. Tilley has gone back to the sources, and his investigations have brought a new point of view.  He has searched the records diligently.  His legal training has led him to weigh and sift with unusual care the evidence found.  His findings are, therefore, worthy of serious consideration.  There may still be some room for honest difference of opinion, but the day for patriotic acceptance of inherited historical ideas is gone.  Americans all can view the War Between the States as a national calamity.  They can allow the Northerner and the Southerner alike to bear the responsibility as new investigations seem to place it.  The open-minded reader will find Mr. Tilley's work much that will both surprise and enlighten him.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) - 2019

12 May 2019

Text: John 16:16-22 (Isa 40:25-31, 1 Peter 2:11-20)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In our Gospel, our Lord is preparing His disciples for a time of testing, of trial, of crosses of their own as He Himself is going to the cross.  He is warning them up front of what is to come.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says our Lord, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

The disciples would soon suffer tremendously when the Lord was taken away to suffer Himself on the cross.  They would be tormented not only by their own doubts and fears, but by their enemies lording and gloating over them, threatening to hunt them down, and destroy them – and their enemies had status, wealth, power, and weapons.  The Christians were to become enemies of both church and state, that is, the Jewish synagogue and the Roman Empire.  They were soon to watch in horror as their Lord and their God was humiliated, beaten nearly to death, and then nailed to a cross.  And if that weren’t enough, as He was suffering and dying on the cross, the cruel soldiers would mock Him for His claims to be Israel’s king and Messiah, the Son of God in the flesh.

The disciples’ entire world was coming crashing down around them, and they were soon to find themselves on the run, scattered as sheep without a shepherd, probably wondering if it had all been a lie, a massive hoax.

“You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

Christians throughout history have borne this cross – even as they were being tortured to death in the arena or at the stake – being mocked and laughed at – even as they tried to pray while their bodies were being broken by agonizing pain.  

Even today, peaceful Christians around the world – mostly in Muslim or Communist countries – are rounded up, imprisoned, and martyred.  We saw this “little while” in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.  And even in the west, Christian children are mocked and bullied, Christian university students are shunned and screamed at, and Christians in the workplace are set up for lawsuits and financially ruined.  We see masked mobs threatening Christian people with violence, and even a member of a state legislature using his position and power to harass an elderly woman and teenage girls who were praying, hoping to intimidate them into silence, into leaving the faith once delivered to the saints.

“You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

Everywhere we turn, we are hated, and our liberties are trodden on.

But let us not forget, dear friends, even as the disciples felt abandoned, they were not.  Even as the world seemingly overcame them, it did not.  Even as death deemed to have won the day at the cross, it did not.

“A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see Me,” says our Lord.  The darkness is only a “little while.”  The time of trial is but a “little while.”  The dread feeling of uncertainty is just a “little while.” 

For they did see Him again, dear friends.  They saw Him when He came into their midst and said, “Peace be with you!”  The “little while” of weeping and lamentation of Good Friday was to become the eternal victory of Easter Sunday!  The frightened band of disciples, filled with doubt, were very soon to become emboldened preachers and confessors of Jesus that not even the world’s mightiest superpower could stop!

“A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see Me!”  

For just as the world turns day by day, and the gloom and darkness of night is followed by the light of day, so too does the “little while” pass, and we do indeed see Him!  And even as our dear mothers suffered the pangs of labor, but rejoiced when we were born – so too will our anguish be forgotten: when we see Him after the “little while.”

And even in this fallen world and this fallen age in which we live, when we are tempted to doubt, tempted to fear, tempted to despair – the “little while” is but a few days between our joyful opportunities to see Jesus in the Eucharist.  For He is with us!  He has not abandoned us or left us as orphans!  He has sent us the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord Jesus continues to come to us in His Word.  We see Him in His sacrament.  We partake of Him as He bids us do, eating and drinking, and receiving the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting!

And even when a child is bullied, Jesus is with him.  Even when a college student is beaten down and bewildered, Jesus is with her.  Even when we are war weary, and when our faith is stretched to its very limits, Jesus reminds us that though we are sorrowful, “your sorrow will turn into joy.”

And that is the difference, dear friends.  For we live by faith and not by sight.  Though our enemies are giants, our Lord is the Son of David.  Though our persecutors may even be Caesar, our true King is Jesus.  The Caesars are all in the dust, but our risen Lord Jesus Christ lives! 

The faith that we have by virtue of our Lord’s death and resurrection, strengthened by His Word and sacrament, bolstered by His promises to us and the prayers that He hears – through that faith and by that faith, we have hope.  For we know how the story ends.  We know who the victor is.  We know what our Lord has done, and will do, for us.  For us, dear friends!  For no matter how dark the dawn, the sun of righteousness shall rise upon us. 

Our sorrow turns into joy because Christ has conquered evil.  Satan may vex us, but the Lord Jesus has defeated him.  The world may mock us, but Christ has overcome the world.  Our flesh may tempt us, but Jesus, who defies all temptation, offers His very own flesh and blood to us, which fortifies us and steels us for battle.   

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  

That is why we continue the celebration of Easter, and why this Sunday, known by its Latin name: “Jubilate!” calls to mind the joy of being a Christian.  It is not because of ourselves, but because of His name that we can rejoice.  For the “little while” is replaced by seeing Him every Lord’s Day.  The sorrow of our struggles in the world are supplanted by the joy of the awesomeness of His works and the greatness of His power, even to the point that our enemies shall indeed submit themselves to Him.

And when the “little while” of this world’s troubles are finally done and gone, and when we see Him, then our sorrow will forever “turn into joy,” and the theme of this Sunday will be our song for eternity:  “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth, Alleluia.  Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.  Alleluia.” Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Sermon: Funeral of Amie Bealer Sanchez

6 May 2019

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Rickey, Hailey, Helaina, and Rickey; family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  Peace be with you.

We often hear the comforting words of the twenty-third Psalm at funerals: “The Lord is my shepherd.”  In our Gospel reading, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.  All throughout the Bible, we are compared to sheep.

Why sheep?  Some people think it’s because sheep are stupid.  Sheep are not stupid.  But sheep do depend on being safe in a flock, and sheep are also hardwired to seek after a protector, a shepherd.  For we live in a dangerous world.  And sometimes sheep wander from the flock, and when they do, they are in danger of predators.  And that tendency to wander is just how we all are, dear friends.  We are maybe a little too trusting sometimes, not realizing that there are people who want to harm us.  The prophet Isaiah says that we are all like sheep.  But sheep are also loved by their shepherd.  And a good shepherd will seek out the lost sheep and take care of them.

We are like sheep because we are all sinners.  No exceptions.  Think of the best person you know, the kindest, the most honest, the person who really seems to have it all worked out – and then remember that this person is a sinner, one whose thoughts, words, and deeds are not what they should be.  In our sin, we wander from the Lord’s flock. 

But Jesus wants to be very clear, dear friends.  Since no-one is perfect, God took human form, to save us, to rescue us, to be there for us when we need Him.  He died on the cross to take our punishment, to suffer the consequences of our actions, even though He doesn’t deserve it.  He does this out of love.  And so,  to those who call upon Him, He is their shepherd.  He knows us by name.  He loves us.  He takes care of us – even in death.

Amie is one of the Lord’s lambs.  She called upon His name.  I know this for a fact.  She read the Scriptures not because she just liked reading, or because she had some kind of fascination with ancient Middle Eastern texts.  She read the Bible because she cried out to Jesus for help.  And this, dear friends, is the most noble and wisest act that any person can do: to seek God, and to call upon His name.

So many people go without God’s help because they never seek it, they never hear the Word of God, they never cry out to their Shepherd to save them from the wolf.  But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and Amie cried out to Him for help.

Hired hands – people who are just doing a job – don’t care.  But Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He cares.  For He owns the sheep.  The hired hand runs away at the first sign of trouble.  But not the Good Shepherd!  He lays down His life for the sheep – even to the point of dying on the cross to rescue us.

Jesus has called Amie home.  Why some people live to be a hundred, and others die at birth is a mystery.  We can’t know the hidden will of God.  But we do know that we are mortal because of our sin.  And we also know that God is in change.  We are not.  And most importantly, dear friends, we know that Amie is with Jesus in heaven.  Amie has no more struggles in this vale of tears, this “valley of the shadow of death.”  The wolf that wanted to take this little lamb has been disappointed, because the Good Shepherd has placed her on His broad shoulders, and has taken her to safety.  And that safety is not just some vague heaven of clouds and angels and harps.  For what our Good Shepherd – who is also the Creator and owner of the sheep – promises is a new heaven and a new earth – without death, without suffering, without sin, and without sadness – just as He created us to live.  Amie is getting a taste of that glory in eternity as she awaits the resurrection.

That bodily resurrection awaits all of the Lord’s sheep who call upon His name, all of us in His flock who know Him, and whom He knows.

Our Lord Jesus Christ knows Amie, and she is with Him, dear friends.  Of that, I am certain.  She has no more suffering, no more worry, no more anxiety, and no more pain.  She is not merely at peace, she is in indescribable joy.  And she knows that the best is yet to come, as we all await our reunion with her in the flesh, to live in a world without those evil things that we have to endure in this fallen world that we, by our sins, have brought to near ruin.

And even all of that said, it is fitting that we mourn.  We should.  We miss her.  We miss all of our loved ones.  But St. Paul teaches us in Scripture that though we Christians mourn, we do not mourn as the unbelievers do – who have no hope.  We mourn because we miss our loved ones, including Amie – but we mourn in hope, knowing that the day is coming when we will see her again in glory!

Jesus is Amie’s good shepherd.  He knows her by name.  She knows Him, and she has responded to His call.  Jesus knows each one of us.  And we can follow our Good Shepherd, in this life, as He leads us to where we need to be.  And He will call us home one day as well.  But until that day comes, we have work to do in the here and now.  And we do so knowing that Amie is well-taken care of, happy, and waiting for us to join her in the arms of our Good Shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd,” says our Lord.  “I know My own, and My own know Me.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) - 2019

5 May 2019

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“The good shepherd,” says our Lord Jesus Christ, “lays down his life for the sheep.”

Of course, shepherds do a lot of things.  They lead the flock to good grass for them to graze, and bring them to water for them to drink.  They give medical care to the injured, and tend to the ewes giving birth.  They give names to the sheep and train them to stay together.  They seek out the sheep that get lost, and give compassion to those who are dying.  

But our Lord mentions this one characteristic of a good shepherd: he interposes his own life between the wolf and each one of the sheep in his flock.  One of the most important roles of the shepherd is protector.  The good shepherd defends against the predator, and he will put his own life in harm’s way to beat back an attacker.  In this sense, the shepherd is a warrior – which fits in well with King David’s vocation as a shepherd-king.  And of course, the ultimate Shepherd-King is David’s descendant Jesus.

For as God, as our Creator, Jesus is the good shepherd because he owns us sheep.  He is not a hired hand.  And the difference is that the one who is just doing a job isn’t going to lay down his life.  When trouble comes, he will flee.  But not the good shepherd.  He stays.  He fights.  He bleeds.  And if necessary, he dies.

The warrior professions, those vocations involving the protection of others, has this same component.  The police, the military, the fire service – all of these callings take great strength: physical and mental.  A warrior is called upon to even harm other people if needed in order to protect his flock.  There is a fatherly component to these callings.  For we have all seen examples of huge, burly, manly men who are as meek and gentle as can be with his little children – even to the point of being a pushover.  But let someone mess with one of his little lambs, and the father just might rip the attacker limb from limb.  This fatherly trait is derided by our deranged culture today as “toxic masculinity.”  But there is nothing toxic about it, dear friends.  It is normal and natural for a father to be the shepherd of his family: both gentle and aggressive, depending upon the circumstances, all in service to his family.

Pastors are also an example of this so-called “toxic masculinity.”  The word “pastor” is Latin for “shepherd.”  And bishops (who are pastors of pastors) traditionally carry a staff called a crozier, which is a reminder of the shepherd’s crook that the shepherd in the field uses to crack the heads of the predatory wolves and lions.  The pastor is, in a very real way, the father of his parishioners.  And this is why there is the ancient custom in the church to call them “father” – which is still done in Lutheran churches around the world.

And all of these vocations are described to a certain extent by our Lord’s teaching that fathers and warriors and pastors lay down their lives for those placed under their care.  But He is mainly speaking of His own ministry as the Savior of the flock of all Christians, as what St. Peter calls, “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  The Greek work that Peter uses is actually “bishop.”  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, for we are sheep under His care, and He holds nothing back in our defense.  He is not a hired hand.  He sees the wolf coming, the devil, and our Lord interposes Himself physically between prey and predator.  His crozier is the cross.  The cross is the weapon that Jesus uses to crush the serpent’s head and save us from being devoured by the ruthless enemy.  He is the Good Shepherd whose veins are opened and whose blood flows freely and sacrificially.  His flesh takes the blows, deflecting them from falling upon us, just as a father or soldier would do to save his children or comrades from attack.

Jesus knows His own sheep, and His own sheep know Him.  He has called each one of us by name.  He gathers us by the Holy Spirit to assemble together in His name, to receive His shepherdly gifts.  And He leads us to green pastures, to food – even the mystical food of His own body, just as He leads us to still waters – even the saving waters of Holy Baptism.

The prophet Ezekiel speaks of Jesus when He says that the Lord God Himself “will search for [His sheep],” gathering them where they have been scattered.  God Himself.  No hired hand who would just run away.  But God Himself, in human form, willing to lay down His life, to fight, to scrap, to bleed, to die.  

This prophesied Shepherd will gather His people from all the nations, from around the world.  He will seek the lost” and “bring back the strayed” and “bind up the injured” and “strengthen the weak” and will destroy the enemies of the flock that have grown “fat and strong” by their injustice.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd. 

For as St. Peter confesses, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Another reason why Jesus is the Good Shepherd is that His flock consists of everyone.  He dies for everyone, for each and every poor miserable sinner on the planet.  And so He offers His saving blood for the forgiveness of sins for all.  And what a tragedy that so many refuse the offer of eternal life.  But Jesus is the “King of love” as our hymn goes.  And love is never compelled or forced.  The gift of the lover can be refused by the beloved.  For we are sheep, not rocks.  We are living creatures who may submit to our shepherd, or who may choose not to.  

And our Good Shepherd knows that there are members of His flock who are unattached to the flock.  He seeks them out.  He calls them back.  He impels but He does not compel.  He urges but He does not force.  He draws all of us in by means of His voice, that is, His Word: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must being them also, and they will listen to My voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

One shepherd, dear friends!  This corresponds to the unity of our “one holy Christian and apostolic church.”  We find unity in the head of the church, who is Christ, our Good Shepherd, who died for us, forgives our sins, and rescues us from the devil.  He bears the blows that we deserve, and like a doting father, He is gentle towards us when we call upon Him for help.  But towards those who would hurt his lambs, He is anything but meek and mild.  

“And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.”


Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Twice in a Lifetime

In between serious works, I enjoy reading rock star biographies.  Their lives are typically interesting, inspiring, tragic, shocking, triumphant, or some combination thereof.

For example, Freddie Mercury's biography was tragic and filled with paradoxes, Bruce Dickinson's career as a rock star is only one facet of an extraordinary life: pilot, fencer, polymath, and poet.  My latest rock and roll read is the autobiography of The Who's Roger Daltrey.  It is shockingly frank and at times eyebrow raising - running the gamut from madness to the mundane.

Interestingly, he calls to mind an event that I was at, in which, as Daltrey explains, a once in a lifetime event became a twice in a lifetime event: the New Orleans Jazz Fest 2015.  The emergence of the sun during "See Me, Feel Me," reprized the same remarkable thing happening in 1969 at Woodstock.

As I said, Daltrey is brutally honest in this book.  And he has always been open about his disgust about Woodstock - which is often marketed as this triumph of love, peace, and music, but was really a terrible event of bad drug trips and sub-par musical performances.

One pages 118-119, Daltrey (who avoids drugs as detrimental to his ability to perform) explains how he was served a cup of tea unknowingly laced with LSD, tells of technical glitches, recounts people being injured, and calls to mind the organizers trying to renege on their contract (money that was needed to fly back to England).  He recounts Woodstock and its New Orleans parallel occurrence:
After all the arrangements, the hallucinations, the mud, and the chaos, we were finally onstage, sometime after 5:00 a.m. 
About a month earlier, I'd woken up from a particularly vivid nightmare.  It was the kind you have when you're a kid.  I was looking out on some barren, smoke-filled landscape.  There were guard towers with searchlights scanning around and there were helicopters overhead.  It was a subconscious approximation of Vietnam.  Looking out into the pre-dawn gloom of Woodstock, making out the vague shape of half a million mud-caked people as the lights swept over them, I felt in my sleep-deprived, hallucinating state that this was my nightmare come true. 
The show didn't feel like it went well.  The monitors kept breaking.  The sound was shit.  We were all battling the elements and ourselves.  It didn't help when a political activist named Abbie Hoffman climbed onto the stage at the end of "Pinball Wizard," grabbed Pete's mic, and shouted, "I think this is a pile of shit while John Sinclair rots in prison.!"
Naturally, Pete booted him off the stage before threatening to kill the next person who tried to take his mic.  Music and peace.
Somehow, we kept going and every time we felt like we were losing it, we dug in a bit deeper.  Then, shortly after six, we got to "See Me, Feel Me" from Tommy and the bleeding sun came up.  Right on cue.  You couldn't have topped it.  After all the shit we'd been through, it was perfect.  It was extraordinary.  It was one of those moments you couldn't ever re-create if you tried.  Once in a lifetime. 

Except exactly the same thing happened again on April 25, 2015, a mere forty-six years later.  We were due to headline at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and it had been pissing rain all day.  A tropical storm had just been through and the whole place was drenched.  It's always chaos when it's so wet.  It plays havoc with the electrics and it's always disconcerting when you see an amp half-submerged in a foot of water.  I got to the trailer, looked out of the window, and told Mitch, my assistant, not to worry.  I'd sort it all out.  He said, doubtfully, "Okay, Roger."  Cynical young man.  And I started shouting at the sky, "Stop it!  Stop now!  We've had enough of this crap!"
And it did.  Right on cue.  Like someone had turned a tap off.  Mitch didn't say anything.  I didn't say anything but, to be honest, I was just as shocked as he was."
The sky was dark gray when we went onstage.  It stayed like that right until the end of "Pinball Wizard."  As I opened my mouth to sing "See Me, Feel Me," the sun broke through.  Absolute magic.  That's what I love about live shows.  Things can happen.  Some of those things are bad.  Some of them are good.  Occasionally, they're magic.  That was one of those twice in-a-lifetime moments.

As I said, I was at the show in New Orleans.  I stood in the rain and mud for a couple hours.  Grace and Leo wandered around the fairgrounds while I held our spot.  I was as close to the stage as possible without paying the premium to be in the roped-off section.  Grace and Leo joined me and humored my joy at seeing The Who perform.  It is no exaggeration to say that I knew every lyric from every song.

In the video above, I'm a few people to the left of the two Canadian flags that a lady was waving.  I'm wearing a white Concordia Theological Seminary sweatshirt.

And the sun breaking out at this time in the show was not lost on me, nor any of my other several thousand colleagues in attendance.  It was a great moment.

It made the impression on Roger Daltrey as well.

And this show was also a twice-in-a-lifetime event for me.  This was my second time seeing The Who.  The first time was at the Richfield Coloseum near Cleveland, December 13, 1982 - by this time, Keith Moon was deceased and Kenny Jones was the drummer.

We had what was known as "nosebleed seats."  But I was prepared.  I smuggled in my Nikon FM camera body, wrapped in a sock and bound to my ankle underneath my bell-bottom jeans.  Along with the camera body, I had a 300 mm telephoto lens, again wrapped in a sock, and placed in the small of my back under my leather jacket.  I smuggled in my equipment by opening my jacket for the cursory pat-down by security.  They did not check my back or my legs.  I ran to the men's room and assembled my camera, and we scurried to our seats.  It was, of course, a great show.  I got a few good pictures, developed them, and wrote the date on the back.

I was 18 years old.  Roger Daltrey was 38.

And so my twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity came on April 25, 2015, nearly 33 years later, as The Who (with Zak Starkey on drums, and Pino Pallodinoo on bass - as the legendary John Entwistle was also deceased by this time) appeared on stage in New Orleans. This time, I was close to the stage.  And this time, photography and video were not prohibited.

I was 51 years old.  Roger Daltrey was 71.

Here is a link to the complete 1969 performance at Woodstock.  And here is a link to the complete 2015 performance at New Orleans.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Progressivism Quid Est

Progressivism is just repackaged Satanism: the lie that mankind is perfectible, and that denying the Word of God is the first step to that ‘perfection.’  Progressivism refuses to submit to reality and insists on a divine ability to create reality by means of words and thoughts, wishes and desires, fantasies and longings.  Progressivism is the deification of the Self, the grand delusion that mankind, by his own means, can create his own reality ex nihilo and from thence evolve himself unto perfection.

Progressivism is a mythology of Paradise, a roadmap without roads, a goal without a destination, a promise without a guarantor.

Progressivism is a logos without the Logos, an Easter without a Good Friday, a Christianity without a Christ.

The world's first expression of Progressivism was, "Did God actually say...?"